At an event in South Carolina on Tuesday, Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush was asked whether he thinks the country should raise the minimum wage or whether the wage should be left up to private companies.
“We need to leave it to the private sector,” he responded. “I think state minimum wages are fine. The federal government shouldn’t be doing this.” He went on, “The federal government doing this will make it harder and harder for the first rung of the ladder to be reached, particularly for young people, particularly for people that have less education.”
He went on to connect his opposition to a federal minimum wage to his focus on income inequality. “We’re moving to a world that is sticky in the ends, where it’s harder for people in poverty to move up and where the rich are doing really well and the middle is getting squeezed,” he said. “And any idea that makes, that perpetuates that is one that I would oppose, and I think this minimum wage idea is exactly one of those things.” He added that the people at the bottom “would be likely the ones that would lose their job. That’s how it’s always worked.”
If the minimum wage were left up to the states, right now many workers would still fare okay: the majority have raised their wages above the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour. But two states actually have a lower minimum wage and five have no minimum at all.
But if the minimums were simply left to companies themselves, there’s no way to know if they would raise them or let wages fall. Despite record corporate profits, wages are only growing at 2 percent year over year, the slowest rate since the 1960s. American workers have increased their productivity substantially over the past decade but experienced flat or falling wage growth. Bush pointed out that Walmart voluntarily raised its wages, but that may at least be in part due to the fact that state minimum wage hikes forced it to increase starting pay in a third of its stores.
While Bush worries about job losses, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that higher wages don’t ruin the job market. Companies actually stand to see an increase in productivity, performance, and customer service along with a reduction in turnover and an increase in the quality of job candidates. These benefits can significantly offset the cost of paying workers more, even in low-wage jobs.
Bush is far from the only conservative to oppose a government-mandated wage floor, however. From governors to lawmakers in the House and Senate, Republicans appear to not just oppose increasing the wage, but increasingly to oppose having a minimum wage altogether.
Bill Barrow Barrow of the Associated Press reports that Bush later clarified that he doesn’t oppose the existing federal minimum wage, but an increase from $7.25 an hour. Bush’s staff has not responded to an inquiry from The Hill asking to clarify whether his remarks referred to eliminating the federal wage or just opposing an increase and a spokesperson refused to clarify his remarks to ThinkProgress.